The Arbiter of
his cold, claustrophobic world, joy is not threatened. It does not exist.
CP Surendran on why we need more — and less —
of Adoor Gopalakrishnan
gopalakrishnan’s movies, black and white and barren, cold and claustrophobic,
are sustained forays into the ever-tenebrous mind of the individual at
odds with himself and the world.
Often, the protagonist, even if he is a seemingly ideologically rooted
political leader as in the case of Sreedharan in Mukhamukham, is not equipped
to understand the nature of the incompleteness of his being, the shifting
chiaroscuro play of his mind in relation to himself and to society at
large. Or if he rarely does, as with the on-the run-Patelar in Vidheyan,
he is unable to communicate it to others or do much about it. Adoor’s
world — given, never made— is largely apathetic to individual
Against its formal — and infrequently volatile — indifference,
the protagonist, rebel or leader, villain or village idiot, exhausted,
sits or lies down on a thin mat on a cold floor and stares at the wall,
will-less, and therefore bereft of a choice. Being as Nothingness. It’s
an Adoor brand of angst and existentialism has no answer for it.
It’s a cruel,
insufferable world that Adoor mediates. To that extent, it’s autobiographical.
His insecure childhood and penurious family circumstances have clearly
shaped the artist in him. The nine films he’s made, starting with
the disturbing Swayamvaram and the recent Nizalkuth which is about an
executioner with pronounced Gandhiyan proclivities, are all various takes
of the same Fate in action on a kindred people. People who are powerless
to change their lives.
Adoor has systematically
fought the technicolor ground cluttered with tinsel-trees and
boats shaped like swans, and pitched a bare tent for himself.
And there he stays still, decades after his first shot
A deliberately slow pace of scenes and the Grand Narrative of the Somnolence
of Spirit all point up the temporal crisis of his characters, a bunch
of half-men going through the motions of a search for future, a simulacrum
of shadows, partaking in the parody of a Promise.
Unlike a Bergman or a Tarkovsky whose plots thicken darkly towards the
cathartic release of a tragedy as in The Seventh Seal or Sacrifice, Adoor
underplays the diminutive descent of his people into their own peculiar,
loveless hell: their lives just do not matter. Nothing does.
Why, I ask myself, a little baffled. Because in Adoor’s auteur-world
happiness, even frisson, are unreal categories of feeling. It’s
not as if their existence is in danger. They just don’t exist. It
does not console me that this is both Adoor’s strength and weakness.
As an artist he cannot believe the traumatised truth of his vision can
be realised once he accepts such positive states of mind. This is a truly
frightened man. Almost as terrified as I am.
Yet to make a practice of his paranoia in the 70s when he began working
as a filmmaker requires huge strength of character. This was the time
when Malayalam cinema in particular, and Indian cinema in general, was
in the grip of the masala formula. In Kerala a hundred gaudy historicals
reigned. Heroes with oiled wigs and horses, heroines with mile-long mammary
glands and magical cardboard swords ruled. Great lone efforts like Ramu
Karriyat’s Chemmeen and MT Vasusdevan Nair’s Nirmallyam flashed
briefly before Adoor swung into faint view.
Since then, more than Aravindan or KG George, considerable filmmakers
themselves, Adoor has systematically fought and cleared the technicolor
ground cluttered with tinsel–trees and boats shaped like swans,
and pitched a bare tent for himself. And there he stays still, a king
of his own dark kaleidoscopic survey, decades after his first shot. And
the camera is still rolling. The lights are still shining. That is something,
I would think, if only because he provides a frame of reference to judge
the orchestrated insanity of the mainstream multi-million mush. Gopalakrishnan?
Ah, yes and yes. We need more of him. And a little less as well.
writer is a poet and journalist